Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years Eve

I have been working all day to create a board game about the experience of aging out of foster care for an upcoming presentation.

Finally, I decided to take a break!

As I searched the Internet for foster care news, it was a happy surprise to me to find that I have been quoted on the website of the Kirpa Life Skills Training Center.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lisa and hubby at Winter Ball

Taking me to the Winter Ball was my husband's birthday present to me this year!

More pictures from the Winter Ball

Helen Jones-Kelley at the Winter Ball

ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley with Doris Edelmann of Montgomery County Children Services

Winter Ball

Voicing Independent Solutions in Our Neighborhoods youth advisory board

During my childhood, I participated in the same activities as my friends - but something happened when I entered the foster care system.

It was as if I were a different person. Suddenly, I became a “group home girl” and a “foster kid.” People treated me differently. They increased their restrictions and lowered their expectations.

Schools initially placed me in remedial classes, until records arrived to notify them that I was an Honors student.

While my oldest stepdaughter prepared for Homecoming this year, I looked through a photo album from my teenage years. It is filled with photographs of my friends from high school, all dressed up for dances that I was never allowed to attend.

Thankfully, there were staff members who advocated for me to participate in school activities, such as: Junior Miss, All-State Chorus tryouts, art competitions and school plays.

Not only did participation make me feel more “normal,” but it also impressed my college admissions counselor to allow me to start college when I was 16 years old.

It is the advocates in our lives who make a difference.

Thanks to the initiative of VISION youth advisory board and the support of Doris Edelmann and Stacia Burlingame, foster care youth in Ohio have their very own dance to attend. As a foster care alumna, it was my privilege to attend as well!

This year marked the third annual Winter Ball. The youth advisory board chose the colors, food, music and theme. ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley came to show her support. There were approximately 180 youth and 20 adults in attendance. Participants voted for a Winter Ball king and queen.

My wish for the New Year is that, in 2008, youth advisory boards in each of Ohio’s 88 counties will be empowered to create and implement activities like this one!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tips on creating a chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America

2007 Thanksgiving dinner at the Capitol
Photo by Gediyon Kifle

As co-founder of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, I've been asked by many people how to start a chapter in their area...

Misty Stenslie, Deputy Director of FCAA national, is the best resource for starting a chapter in your area.

Please follow this link to find out more about FCAA chapter charter, policies and procedures.

The Ohio chapter is available as a resource to you as well...

Here are some things that have worked for us:

1. Get in touch with foster care youth:
- Seek out local foster care youth advisory boards
- Find out what matters to them
- Develop presentations to smooth their transition to adulthood
- Partner with child welfare professionals to improve services to young people in/from foster care

Foster care youth of today are the alumni of tomorrow. They have fresh insights and passion to offer! And we older alumni can use our experience and expertise to support their current and future success!

2. Find your allies, such as:
- Local/statewide foster parent organizations
- Local/statewide independent living coordinators
- Social work professors at local universities
- Support groups for kinship caregivers

Many people within the child welfare field long to make a more powerful impact when it comes to foster care. Attend their meetings and tell them who you are and what FCAA is all about. The people who care most about our mission will be drawn to you!

3. Read the news:
- Find out who is speaking out about foster care
- Find out which journalists are interested in writing about foster care issues
- Research the local radio stations for future promotion opportunities

When we present ourselves as being knowledgeable about what's going on locally, statewide and nationally regarding foster care, this builds our credibility with others.

4. Share your voice:
- At local, statewide and national conferences
- In op-eds and interviews
- During brainstorming sessions about independent living classes and aftercare
- In discussions about foster care policy

'Nothing about us without us' is FCAA's motto.

When 'experts' hold discussions about changing child welfare policies, procedures and/or legislation, we should be there. And when youth entrust us with issues that are important to them, we should be their champions in any arena in which they may not be present.

As we continue to share our voice, other alumni will come along and stand beside us. This will give power to our message, because we will be sharing collectively. Opportunities will arise for us to empower them to take center stage, while we sit in the audience and cheer them on!

5. Never give up:
- There will be disagreements
- Sometimes you will feel discouraged
- You won't see the outcome of your efforts right away
- "It is possible to move a mountain by carrying away small stones"

What we are involved in is a foster care movement. Like the civil rights movement or the women's rights movement.

Movements don't take a day or a week or a month or a year. They can take a lifetime. And it is worth it, because members of Foster Care Alumni of America are determined to leave a legacy!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Foster children are not "pound puppies"

Caption: This is NOT a foster child!

In Omaha, Nebraska, a nineteen-year-old boy walked into a mall with a semi-automatic assault rifle, and killed eight people before turning the gun on himself.

He was immediately christened "a lost puppy."

This is ridiculous.

Robert Hawkins wasn't a puppy - or even more offensive "a pound puppy, he was a person.

Current and former foster children aren't pets - we are people:

1. We can't be sent away to kennels on holidays if group home staff or foster parents want to "just have friends over and have the place to myself."

2. We can't be kept on a leash, and as we enter into young adulthood, but rather should be allowed the freedom and support to build a positive circle of friends, often through involvement in sports or other school activities

3. And, unlike "dumb animals," we are responsible for our actions.

“To be truly free, we have to be accountable, to be able to answer for ourselves and our decisions” (Alan W. Jones, SoulMaking).

Robert Hawkins made a terrible choice. It was wrong; it was misguided - and it was irrevocable.

And it was selfish. In his suicide note, he said, "Now I'll be famous."

This is the type of action that perpetuates the stigma of foster care. Despite the stereotype, not every former foster child winds up being some type of criminal.

Many of us grow up to build families. We provide for our children in a way that we were not provided for... protect them in a way that we were not protected. We work to learn new patterns of behavior so that we will not repeat the cycle of abuse.

Many of us strive to make a positive difference for the 'next generation' of foster children.

For example, during the week of Thanksgiving, members of Foster Care Alumni of America from all over the country met with Congressional representatives and then had a Thanksgiving dinner on the Capitol lawn, in order to propose positive changes to improve the foster care system.

Over 1000 media outlets were contacted about this event -- and the turnout was much less than I had expected.

In the meantime, there are countless articles about this tragedy.

It's saddens me that destructive behavior attracts more press coverage than proactive action.

Transition From Foster Care to Adulthood Wiki

This Wiki provides information about state law and practice regarding the transition of young people from foster care to adulthood.

Promoting Youth Voice in Child Welfare Systems

The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning has compiled several resources to assist child welfare professionals with promoting youth voice.

In addition, the National Resource Center for Youth Development Toolkit for Youth Involvement provides important information on how to prepare youth and adults to work in partnership to improve the nation's child welfare system.

National CASA Association

The National CASA Association knows that, in dependency courts, a child's health and safety should be the primary concern.

A recent audit conducted by the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General demonstrated that the involvement of a CASA volunteer can keep children from languishing in long-term foster care or reentering the child welfare system.

According to this audit:

- All or most of CASA volunteer recommendations are accepted in four out of five cases.

- When a CASA volunteer is assigned, a higher number of services are ordered for children and families.

- Children with a CASA volunteer are more likely to be adopted.

- A child with a CASA volunteer is as likely to be reunified with their birth parent as a child without a CASA volunteer.

- With a CASA volunteer, the likelihood that a chilld will reenter the child welfare system is consistently reduced by half.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Congressional Foster Youth Internship Program

Every year, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute offers summer internship opportunities for talented college students who have spent their formative years in foster care.

Participants will intern at Capitol Hill. Their housing and travel expenses will be provided for by a stipend. Ongoing support will be provided, including an initial orientation, ongoing training and a mid-summer retreat.

Applications must be postmarked by Jan. 4, 2008, and sent to:

311 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 544-8501 Fax

For more information, please contact or call(202)544-8500.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My husband's strange and mysterious world

I was sent home sick from work today…

Flushed and feverish, I found comfort in my husband’s arms.

He wrapped me up in the warmth of his cuddles until I fell into a deep and restful sleep.

I awoke to hear music at high volume. My husband, a talented musician and songwriter, was downstairs jamming his guitar full-blast along with recordings of his songs.

I lay in bed, listening to him strum his chords and sing his lyrics.

It just cracks me up that while I am out there saving the world, he is in our house, working from home, typing on his computer, playing WOW, and then picking up his guitar to create music that is out of this world.

This is the world that my husband has created. This is the oasis that I come home to every day...

Some of the songs he has written are about me...

Some of his songs were what made me fall in love with him in the first place...

There are so many reasons why I love this strange and wonderful man that I have married, and all the strange and wonderful things that he has brought into my life…

Including: His sitcoms, his technology, his Beatles obsession, his wry and astute commentary about life, his sarcasm and sometimes inappropriate humor, his strength, his razor-sharp intelligence, his sexy profile...

Here are the links to some of my favorite songs of his:

Apple Girl: (which he wrote for his daughters)

Gunk: (which I think is his most polished and amazingly deep song)

Have You Seen My Sunshine: (because I’m his ‘sunshine girl’)

There are many others... but those are the ones that I am thinking of right now (probably because he just jammed all of them!)

For more silly songs of us, please see:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The past is not through with you

There is a powerful quote from the movie Magnolia: "You might be through with the past, but the past is not through with you..."

During my involvement in Foster Care Alumni of America, certain people and situations come up from time to time that remind me of my past...

When I first aged out of foster care, I started college.

The year was 1989; I was sixteen years old. I had never been trained in independent living skills. I didn't know how to cook or budget or drive.

But, worst of all, I had no 'common sense.'

Common sense isn't born into most people. It is something that your mother or father teaches you.

And so, lacking all common sense, during my second year in college when I was 17 years old, I had a roommate named "Janice" (not her real name). We knew each other from an earlier group home.

Janice was hard as nails on the outside, with a fragile and broken interior that it seemed like only I could see.

I tried to rescue her, but I couldn't save her from her worst enemy: herself.

I couldn't keep her from numbing out on sex and drugs, becoming a prisoner to both, stealing to feed her habit, eroding her own conscience -- and eventually stealing from me.

Six months later, when I was broke and homeless, and she had stolen my last $50, I realized that I had to cut ties with her. I had to find a way to survive, and get back on my feet again. I needed to finish college, earn a graduate degree, establish a career, and build a future for myself.

So, I finally left Janice to sink or swim for herself. But she didn't make it. She sank like a stone.

Her life is a cautionary tale: Janice became a stripper, had several children out of wedlock and was eventually murdered by one of her 'clients.' Her children were placed in foster care. Did I mention that Janice's mother had been a prostitute? And, so the cycle repeated all over again.

It broke my heart to find out what had happened to her.

It was January 1996 when the story came out in the papers.
I was in graduate school at the time. I was wracked by survivor guilt.

I blamed myself for not giving her another chance. And so I became the Lisa that I am today. The Lisa who always wants to give people in and from foster care one more chance...

Sometimes that means that I get taken advantage of. And so, as an adult, I have to force myself to set limits with other people. This can be the hardest lesson. The book Boundaries has been invaluable to me.

Because there is a person in my life right now who is hard as nails on the outside, but through that shell, I can see a fragile interior. I can see the many times she has been wounded. I can tell the outlines of the scars.

And yet, she has been taking advantage of me - and I have to confront the situation, both for myself and for this other person. It's not healthy for either one of us.